Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

29 Adar 5759 - March 17, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly

















Home and Family
Book Review:
Cactus Blossom

by Rachel Pomerantz

Published by Feldheim, Reviewed by Judith Weil

For your eventual Pesach reading pleasure/leisure.

An Israeli religious weekly once referred to social workers as "The most unpopular group in Israel, after the chareidim" and as "bureaucrats with a great deal of power." There have been many horror stories in the chareidi press in connection with the social services, and social workers are largely viewed, rightly or wrongly, as people who take children away from their families. This impression results in chareidi families in crisis feeling reluctant to contact social services.

This negative image does not fit the pleasant, helpful social worker featured in "Cactus Blossom", but is certainly true of the welfare officer who displays great tactlessness, misreads every situation, and is clearly blinded by her own prejudices and preconceptions about chareidi society.

In this book, the background for the intervention of the social services is the Silber family's foster son, Ronny. The Silbers, themselves, are a typical Jerusalem chareidi family with whom it is easy to identify - as Mrs. Silber struggles to juggle her manifold duties. Can there be a mother whose children have NOT made a bad impression just when it is most essential that they come over well - as happens here?

Ronny's own history is sad, and his story becomes sadder as the book progresses.

Although not essential to the main story line of the book, the story is set during the time of the Gulf War, and for me, this is an added attraction. Reading it, brought those difficult weeks back to me. It is difficult to believe there is so much I have forgotten. Everyone who experienced those weeks has his or her own tales to tell. While the Silbers had their chicks around them at the time, I now recall ticking mine off in my mind each time there was an attack - especially when it was Shabbos and we couldn't phone. Our oldest was living near Haifa: Good - Haifa has now been pronounced clear. Our second was at yeshiva in the South. Good - people in the South have now been allowed out of their sealed rooms - and so on. I also now recall that the Gulf War presented a new dimension in hachnossas orchim. I raced home on one occasion when the alarm sounded, expecting to find our young daughter there on her own, the way I'd left her. She was there, but not alone. Her father had come home while I was out, but there were also two strangers in our sealed room. My husband had invited in two meshulochim who were at the door just at the crucial moment when the alarm went off.

Then there were some friends of ours who had fears of burglars taking all their precious items during a raid; they put all their valuables into the sealed room. Since that room doubled as their spare room, guests staying over were amazed to find themselves sharing the limited space with the Chanuka menora, with other sundry silver Judaica and bits of jewelry, the Kenwood mixer and the microwave.

But to come back to the book. It shows how a family can show its mettle when under threat. It depicts how a family member can belong totally to that family, even if he is technically not related. And it makes us realize how terrible it would be to have this theoretically non-relative taken away by a bureacracy that doesn't understand what it is doing.

Fortunately, the judge in this case had some sense.

The book contains a subplot about a young woman who has had no contact with her father since she was a small child. She has all sorts of assumptions about the failure to maintain contact, but these turn out to be wrong and she realizes that her anger was unjustified.


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